Pagenaud’s quiet run of results sets him up nicely for second half surge

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Because the eye-popping “big” results haven’t quite happened outside of his win at Detroit race two, it’s easy to overlook what Simon Pagenaud and the HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports team have done in the last five races.

Pagenaud’s month of May was quietly solid, ending as the second-best Honda finisher in eighth place. He hasn’t made any mistakes in the races since then and racked up a needed top-10 Sunday in Iowa, with sixth place. The only three drivers that have scored more points than Pagenaud since Indy are Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and Iowa winner James Hinchcliffe.

“Traffic played a big role in the race, but it was great for the HP car to be up front on an oval today,” Pagenaud said. “At the end I’m not sure what we were missing because the car was really hooked up.”

“I had a blast out there,” he added. “The restarts were fun, the racing was fun, and it was just a great day of competition. From the cockpit it was back and forth going as hard as you could into pit lane and getting out just as fast. We were trying to grab positions any way we could.”

Since Pagenaud is only in his second year racing on ovals, the fact he didn’t lose substantial ground while the Hondas have struggled compared to the Chevrolets is a promising sign heading to the second half of the season.

Pagenaud exited the Indianapolis 500 10th in points, and he’s now sixth, 36 points behind Marco Andretti in third. Pagenaud has already tested at Pocono earlier this year, so he won’t be going in completely blind to “the tricky triangle” in a couple weeks.

More importantly, the run of seven straight road and street course races after Pocono sets up nicely for Pagenaud the second half of the season. Combined with the strengths of engineer Ben Bretzman, team manager Rob Edwards, look for the Frenchman to score his second win of the year and make some more regular visits to the podium.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.